July 24, 2016- Proper 12 (Tenth Sunday after Pentecost)

July 18, 2016 | by Robert Gnuse

Reading 1 Reading 2 Reading 3 Reading 4 Reading 1 Alt Reading 2 Alt
Hosea 1:2-10 Psalm 85 Colossians 2:6-15 (16-19) Luke 11:1-13 Genesis 18:20-32 Psalm 138

Hosea 1:2-10

In this prophetic call experience of Hosea, a summary of Hosea’s life is given, and the experiences of his life provide grist for the symbols in his prophetic oracles. Hosea marries a prostitute, whether she is a temple prostitute, a common prostitute, or a young girl required by her parents to go through a cultic ritual of defloweration as a teen-ager, we do not know. He then gives symbolic names of prophetic judgment to his three children, which probably made life difficult for them in grade school. How dramatic that a prophet would act out the symbols of his judgment oracles in the actions of his life. In that matrix of symbols, he would be God and his wife would be Israel. Her unfaithfulness represented the disobedience of Israel, especially in the worship of foreign gods.

Hosea is passionate about the relationship between God and Israel, and it seems that the emotional pain that he experienced with his wife’s unfaithfulness is projected onto God. God thus is portrayed as the cuckolded husband who is heartbroken over his wife’s unfaithfulness. The pathos of God stands out dramatically in the book of Hosea. For Hosea, the judgment of God is rooted in the broken heart that God has experienced, thus God’s anger is rooted in the original tremendous love that God had for Israel. In this way Hosea communicates to his listeners  how one God can be both a God of love and a God of wrath—the wrath was rooted in deep love. This is the rhetoric that will undergird the eventual emergence of monotheism among the Jewish masses in the sixth century BCE exile in Babylon. For it explains how contradictory emotions can be held together in one divine personality, and one does not require two separate deities.

For process theologians Hosea is special. For in this book the passionate involvement of God in the human process is most evident. The pathos of God is a hallmark of the book, and it is a significant theological belief for us today. We worship a God who cares, a God who can feel human emotional pain, a God who can understand our human suffering. Our God knows what it is like to be human.

Genesis 18:20-32

This is an amazing story. Abraham and God bargain, like a merchant and a customer in a Middle Eastern market, over how many righteous people must be found in Sodom to prevent its destruction. The courtesy with which Abraham approaches God with each offer is also reminiscent of the courtesy sometimes used in the market place negotiations. In the negotiations Abraham ultimately dickers with God to get the minimum number of  righteous to be found down to ten. Alas, ten cannot be found and the city is destroyed.

The story is possibly a post-exilic narrative which has been inserted into the Abraham traditions at a later stage in their development. If so, it may symbolize how Jews scattered in the Gentile world would serve as those few righteous who deflect God’s wrath from falling upon the world. Jews are thus encouraged to faithfully preserve their faith and customs so as to save the world. They are to be the “salt of the earth.”

Christians commentators oft have commented upon how this narrative testifies to the graciousness of God. God is willing to enter into the world in human form, negotiate with a human being, and ultimately make concessions to human requests. Furthermore, the story testifies to the power of prayer; how sincere prayer may change the mind of God. This is certainly what biblical authors wished their audience to hear and believe.

Process theologians wax eloquent on the message of this text. God enters into the process of human existence and dialogues with a human being, even making concession to the requests of a human being. These concessions ultimately remind the process theologian of how God is portrayed as growing with humanity and changing in the process of becoming in the process theological worldview. It is a most powerful statement for us to proclaim today that our God “travels” with us and changes as we grow in faith.

Colossians 2:6-15 (16-19)

What are “the elemental spirits of the universe” (v. 8)? Who are “the rulers and authorities” who Jesus “disarmed” (v. 15)? Commentators suspect that Paul, or a disciple of Paul, who wrote this letter, may be referring to the gods formerly worshipped by the pagans who have become Christian. If so, this is amazing! The biblical author is clearly a monotheist, but chooses to speak to the audience on their level in order to give them assurance that they are free from the old gods. He tells them that the gods whom they once worshipped did exist, but were defeated by Jesus. This is a good way to wean polytheists into monotheism, rather than telling them that the old gods never existed. Our author “accommodates” himself to the worldview of the listeners. One of the significant deities of that age was Tyche, or “fate,” and many believed their lives were fixed and determined by that deity. Missionaries like Paul declared that people were free from Tyche and thus free to determine their own future.

We believe that God enters into the process of our world and becomes intimately one with the human experience. Thus, God also accommodates the divine being to our human experience. This paradigm speaks to us clergy also. It tells us to empathize with our people, to speak to their needs. It tells a young clergyperson new to a congregation to understand the spiritual and intellectual feelings of the people before moving too fast with new programs for the church or new ideas from the pulpit.

People still live with assumptions that they are fated or trapped in their lives. These feelings often leave them trapped in despair or immobilized by their fears and anxieties. We must again tell people that they are free, freed by the power of God’s grace to move forward in life. The process theologian speaks of how God offers future possibilities to us. Though much of our existence may be seen as pre-determined according to our modern scientific world-view, the process theologian believes that God offers us the choice or freedom to choose between pre-determined options. This explains how we can be seen as both free and determined at the same time in our human existence. As clergy we must encourage people to assume responsibility and act with freedom even in the face of the limitations that surround them.

Luke 11:1-13

We notice that Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer is missing two of the petitions that we use today (“your will be done on earth as in heaven” and “deliver us from evil”). In addition, the introduction of the prayer is lacking “who is in heaven.” Did Jesus teach both versions, or did early Christians develop the shorter version used by Jesus, which Luke preserves, into the longer version we now use today, which is found in Matthew? We do not know, and it does not really matter, for God ultimately has given us the longer prayer.

In the verses that follow, Jesus elaborates on prayer and the value of persistent prayer. Pray without ceasing appears to the the theme of Jesus’ discourses here. Pray to God with passion and we will be heard seems to be the message of these passages.

A process theological perception of prayer adds a special dimension to the understanding of prayer. As a process theologian I believe that God is found within each of us. The ultimate manifestation of God is in human consciousness. We may see by faith a divine order in the creation, but revelation occurs through the human mind. This is how the God who is totally outside the universe enters into our world and becomes part of the evolving process of human existence.

I believe that when we pray, we pray to the power of the divine that is within us. We pray for that divine force to actualize itself in our lives for actions and for healing. Thus, I believe that oft times when we pray for God to act, we may be praying for God to move us to accomplish what needs to be done. For me, prayer is where the interface between the human and the divine occurs, prayer is where we and God act together. Maybe we need to realize that, when we pray to God for something, because we and God must work together. George prayed to God for years that he might win the lottery. One day God spoke to George and said, “George! Meet me half way, buy a ticket for once!”